The Roman Empire took a major hit when the emperor Nero, as reported by Tacitus, set the city ablaze and watched it crumble while playing his fiddle. Though Rome may have been an enormous city for the first century AD, it was a tiny town compared to today's massive urban and suburban sprawls. Today, it would be nigh impossible to light up an entire city, thanks largely in part to the impressive performance of modern-day firefighters, fire trucks, and water mains.
On the road, every driver knows to get out of the way quickly when a fire engine blasts by with its sirens whining. Those huge trucks can lug literal tons of water, ladders that are hundreds of feet tall, and an enormous crew of firemen dedicated to saving lives and properties from potential destruction. Back in the days when cities like early Rome, London, and Tokyo were at risk, however, cars and trucks had not been invented. Horse-drawn carriages could haul fire brigades at a snail's pace and bucket lines from the nearest well or river were the only hope for residents as they watched their lives go up in smoke.
The invention of the automobile has changed the face of the planet, both for the better and for the worse. While automotive technology has allowed for rapid emergency response, the hulking shells of abandoned vehicles now litter the entire world—and that includes fire trucks. Keep scrolling for 20 pics of fire engines that have been left to rust.
20 Number 3
Fire engines are an essential part of government infrastructure. Early fire brigades might have had to form bucket lines but these days, massive trucks are able to haul their own water while also using hook-ups to fire hydrants that allow them to deliver massive quantities of water wherever needed. But along the way, the fire truck went through significant stages of utility—this one, however, has long been left to rust and mold away. Whether it was left holding water that eventually began to leak and cause rust or if the weather alone did the damage is hard to tell for certain.
19 High Quality H20
The tires on this fire engine look remarkably intact when compared to the rest of its body. One of the major additions to fire truck technology was the introduction of enormous, unfolding ladders. Only necessary in urban environments, where enormous apartment structures present different challenges to firefighters than they would ever find in rural areas, these ladders can stretch hundreds of feet in the air to allow residents living above the site of a possible incident to escape. They also deliver firefighters more quickly to higher floors, where they can perform search and rescue operations. But even the bravest firefighter wouldn't risk this truck's old, rusted ladder.
18 Forest Service
In rural areas, firefighters are more likely to have to go off-roading to combat the effects of wildfires, as opposed to structure fires found in urban environments. Of course, they have to be ready in case any homes or buildings are threatened, as well, so they truly must be trained for multiple scenarios. But at least in the rural environment, a fear of heights won't prevent potential recruits from joining the squad; just about the only time a ladder like this one would need to be used would be to get a kitten that's stuck up in the high branches of a tree.
17 Half-Ton Truck
Not every fire truck is a massive vehicular behemoth capable of hauling enormous quantities of water, an entire brigade of firefighters, and a ladder tall enough to reach into skyscrapers. For much of the time since Henry Ford made the Model T available to the masses, average trucks have served in the field, as well. This truck probably couldn't go too fast or bring too much water to the scene of a conflagration but sometimes, having more firemen spread around a region so that they can more quickly reach any potential scenes from less distant regions, makes up for the capabilities of the massive fire trucks seen in larger cities.
16 Route 66 Safety
The legendary Route 66 spanned much of the United States in an era when the automobile was enjoying enormous growth as a new form of technology. From 1926 on, travelers could head out west to Los Angeles or back east to Chicago on Route 66 on a journey that was originally around 2,450 miles. But automotive technology's growth wasn't always smooth; there were many fits and starts along the way and there had to be plenty of firetrucks along the journey to help cars that would light up at all hours of the day and night. When muscle car mania hit, the wide range of backyard mechanics and their massively powerful engines probably kept this fire truck busy at all times.
15 Pug Nose
Fire engine design over the years has changed dramatically. Originally, they were just based on regular trucks that had been modified with some hosing, racks for equipment, and perhaps a water tank. These days, massive multi-axle trucks with rear-wheel steering and even trailers have become the norm. These big, boxy beasts roar around with a wail from their sirens and snorts from their powerful engines—all bedecked in shiny chrome and perfect red paint that young recruits keep sparkling, no doubt as part of their training. But this old truck looks to have been pretty ugly, even before it was left to deteriorate in the great outdoors.
The utilitarian function of this truck was enhanced at the cost of its good looks. Who knows, maybe in the old days, this was the style that kids loved to see race down the roads, all the extra light pods flashing, complete with flatbed and additional racks for hosing and tools. But that square bumper, those steel wheels, and the off-color, hacked running board make for a brute more than a beast. Surprisingly, this neglected truck's tires look like they're holding air. Although in all likelihood, they may have remained inflated for the few seconds it took to snap this pic and then gone flat again with a nice hiss.
13 Jay Leno's Firetruck Garage
This firetruck is older than a classic; it's more of an antique. Its boxy, long hood looks like a Hispano-Suiza that could be found in Jay Leno's garage (or out blasting along the PCH with Jay Leno at the wheel, grinning like a madman as the multi-liter cylinders roar). The incongruously immaculate tires reveal that someone is putting their heart and soul into keeping this truck around—the clean finish on the wooden ladder also points to a bit of a restoration job. The hose isn't inflated, though, which is probably a good thing because this truck's steel body panels certainly aren't stainless.
There's a huge market out in the world for vintage trucks, especially ones that saw official use as firetrucks, tow trucks, police cruisers, and as other cogs of governmental authority. One search of Craigslist will reveal a wide range of trucks in various levels of neglect; this truck looks pretty bad but it's nothing compared to the worst of the worst, which are barely recognizable hunks of metal decayed down to the bones—and deeper. This could possibly receive a restoration, though more likely is that it will pass from collector to hoarder to obsessed collector to obsessed hoarder, only receiving air in its tires to get it on a trailer during deals.
11 Winter Wonderland
Santa Claus famously dresses in all red and his color scheme—red and white—matches that of most fire departments in the United States. The coincidence lends itself to holiday parades and fun for children, who love to watch Santa ride down Main Street atop a big, red fire engine. But in the wintry wonderlands where kids actually get snow in the winter, it's rare that a service vehicle, even receiving the best care that firemen can give it during their downtime, will have survived as well as this example has over the decades. Putting it out with a For Sale sign with snow on the ground isn't going to help its survival, however.
10 Under The Sycamore Trees
An entire phenomenon has developed within the internet that is dependent on today's high-quality digital cameras that are increasingly available in every smartphone. Whereas in the past, finding a dilapidated car while out in nature was a moment to pause and take in the view, nowadays, everyone can be a professional photographer of sorts, able to take a high-res pic with the click of a button. The result is the proliferation of websites dedicated to rusting hulks of metal, be they in the form of supercars, muscle cars, classic pickups, or even fire engines. This beast sits forlornly beneath a beautiful tree, shedding its red paint with each passing season.
9 Rural Pumper
Part of the challenge for firemen everywhere is that water weighs a ton. Literally. If one gallon of water weighs around 8.5 pounds, it only takes about 235 gallons to reach one ton of weight on the back of a truck. That's only about as much water as a home fish tank—certainly not enough to combat a blaze threatening the lives and homes of even the smallest of families. Fire engines have to be able to haul their multifaceted crew, the crew's gear, and at least some water, as well, and that's why they're built to be sturdy, powerful, and enormous.
8 Radiator Fan
Modern fire engines are massively complex, increasingly expensive machines. But back in the day, when technology was a little simpler, fire engines were just beefy versions of the rest of the cars on the road. That is readily apparent in this pic, as the truck's hood and nose have been lost to time. But at least it affords the modern viewer and chance to take a look at the engine setup, complete with a large radiator fan still mounted at the front of the engine bay. That water tank behind the driver's seat looks radically undersized for an actual incident, but it was better than nothing in a time when engines couldn't produce the massive power figures needed to haul tons of water around.
In areas that are less populated, it's nearly impossible to maintain the public funds necessary to staff and maintain the number of fire stations that should probably be necessary. As a consequence of this country's wide open spaces, plenty of responsible citizens have taken it upon themselves to become volunteer firefighters—and plenty more feel a responsibility to keep a weather eye on their surroundings, checking for signs of smoke or suspicious individuals during the hotter months. Not many volunteers enjoy the luxury of having a volunteer's truck to blast around in if they do spot something bad that's actually happening, though.
6 Fire In The Snow
This fire truck has been abandoned deep in the woods. What exactly happened to it remains a mystery. The only potential clue lies in the fact that it still wears chains on its front tires. Was this truck deep in the snow, trying to get to the source of a blaze? But if there was deep enough snow to warrant chains on the front wheels, it seems unlikely a fire would get started. On the other hand, perhaps the chains were to help with a muddy situation. But mud comes from rain and means that everything should be relatively wet; yet again, that's a situation where fires are unlikely.
5 Left To Mother Nature
The human world has become dependent on automobiles. From the trucking industry, which delivers goods all over the world, to everyday commuters, who fight their way through stop-and-go traffic on the way to work, the number of vehicles on the roads increases every year. But unlike the population increase on this planet, which has resulted in cemeteries becoming overcrowded, automobiles can take centuries to fully deteriorate once left out in nature. Still, the creeping vines, fallen leaves, and weather take their toll, and one day there may be more collapsing cars in forests than there are surviving on the roadways.
The nuclear waste zone that came about after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 has become a hot topic for horror flicks and video games. And yet, there's a reason for that. The images that come to mind when thinking about an irradiated, hazardous area that was consumed by its own stash of nuclear power necessarily leads to scary thoughts—especially when paired with the Western world's conception of the way the USSR looked aesthetically. This fire engine seems straight out of a different world in a different era, while the dilapidated and graffitied building in the background only enhances the post-apocalyptic scene's effect on the mind.
3 Service d'Incendie
Fire trucks are a necessity in every region of the world that is populated by humans, the only known species that has managed to proverbially steal fire from the gods. Unfortunately, humans can't quite handle the mysterious substance; instead, the dancing licks of flame serve as a form of hypnotism. Perhaps it goes back to the caveman days, when every evening was spent circled around a campfire that provided good food and warmth on even the coldest of nights. But now, with populations spread wide and far, having been crammed too tightly into dense cities, the miracle of fire has led to everywhere requiring a 'Service d'Incendie' to keep an eye on things.
2 Desert Rat
This photograph reveals a strange habit that dominates the lives and livelihoods of plenty of people. Visible in the pic is the fire engine, front and center, as well as a flatbed cab-over to the right, a vintage truck behind that, a milk or postal van up the hill next to a full-sized road grader, and various other rusted-out shells of vehicles that will never run again. Perhaps the owner of this collection believed they were the one who would be able to coax these machines back to life. More likely, they had a compulsion to collect more and more vintage vehicles, never taking a moment to ponder the psychological implications and storage ramifications of their actions.
1 The Stains of Time
The final takeaway from all these pictures of fire trucks left to rust away over the years remains as murky as their paint jobs. Their existence in the fields, forests, and deserts points to the history of humanity's obsession with the automobile as much as it does the potential damage that the use, and misuse, of fire can engender. And yet, on a positive note, the designers and engineers of these fire trucks spent countless hours building the best vehicles that they possibly could, all in the hopes of saving the lives of the people around them. Their longevity in the face of Mother Nature is a testament to that hard work.
Sources: Wikipedia, World Nuclear, and